Ipomoea batatas or Sweet Potato is an ancient root crop native to Tropical America. The perennial vines have been cultivated for as long as 5,000 years. The plants has varying leaf shapes from ovate and entire to palmately lobed with many cultivars that vary in leaf color. Today we use the sweet potato vine as an annual ground cover or for hanging baskets.
Blooming: Sweet potatoes bloom in the short days of winter in the greenhouse. Being related to Morning Glories, the flowers open in the early morning and are usually closed by early afternoon. The pinkish-white flowers with a deep purple throat are up to 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) across. They are very showy.
Culture: Ipomoea batatas need full sun with a well-drained, slightly acidic soil mix. The ideal soil is a deep friable sandy loam soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. In the greenhouse, we use a soil mix consisting of 1 part peat moss to 2 parts loam to 1 part sand or perlite. Once plants are established in their container, they are well watered and allowed to dry slightly before watering again. We fertilize them monthly during the spring and summer months with a balanced fertilizer. The vines are very rapid growers and may need trimming to keep them in their desired form. In late September, all the plants are cut back and repotted if necessary for the winter months. Since they are perennial, plants will grow all winter long in the greenhouse and should be watered as during the growing season. We only fertilize once during this period. If you are over-wintering your plants be sure not to let the temperatures fall below 55°F (13°C).
Propagation: Ipomoea batatas are propagated from cuttings or simple layers and from seed in the spring. One can start Sweet Potatoes from the edible tuber by inserting toothpicks in the tuber and setting it in a jar of water with the end being barely in the water. Once the plant has rooted and the foliage is growing they can be transplanted into soil.
Ipomoea batatas was featured as Plant of the Week January January 20-26, 2006.
Guide to Past Plants-of-the-Week:
Cal's Plant of the Week was provided as a service by the University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology and specifically Cal Lemke, who used to be OU's botany greenhouse grower and an avid gardener at home as well. If the above links don't work, then try the overview site. You may also like to look at the thumbnail index. ©1998-2012 All rights reserved.